Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.
7/11/2012 - ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- According to British folklore, if it rains on July 15, St. Swithin's Day, it means we can expect 40 more days of rain. As the old rhyme goes:
"St. Swithin's day, if ye do rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithin's day, if ye be fair,
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair."
You may have noticed the weather has been a little on the damp side recently. Last month was the U.K.'s wettest June since records began in 1910, according to U.K. Meteorological Office figures.
Contrary to the beliefs of many Americans who live here at the moment, it does not always rain in Britain - it only feels like it. But even in drier years, what many fail to realise is that you always need to be prepared for a deluge, because our British rain has a tendency to surprise you with a sneaky shower, or will soak you with the very fine drizzle we seem to specialise in here. It has the ability to permeate through to your very undergarments, should you not have had the forethought to take a rain coat or brolly* with you.
Cats, in common with many of nature's wonders, are sensitive to quite small meteorological changes. My whiskers and fur are able to sense small pressure variations, and my keen olfactory system detects all kinds of signals in the environment. Of course, humans form many daft conclusions from my behaviour, such as the common belief that, if I wash behind my ears, it's a sign of impending rain. What drivel - my ears are simply in need of a good scrub.
St. Swithin does not appear to have had any extraordinary ability to predict the weather during his lifetime, and I am sure he washed behind his ears on a regular basis. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness, or so they say. It was after his death and burial that St. Swithin apparently developed his meteorological skills.
St. Swithin, or Swithun, as would seem to be the original spelling of his name, was a 9th century bishop of Winchester. Swithun had a death-bed request - to be buried, not with his episcopal predecessors in a prominent place within Winchester cathedral, but outside in a simple tomb, "where the sweet rain of heaven may fall upon my grave".
It is said his successor, Bishop Aethelwold, considered it unworthy for such an important figure to be buried outside. Instead a great ceremony was arranged to transfer Swithun's remains to a magnificent shrine in the church.
This ceremony took place July 15 in the year 971 A.D., but was ruined by a tremendous rainstorm, which broke a period of drought. The weather remained abnormally rainy for several weeks thereafter.
This disaster was viewed as an indication of divine displeasure, and Swithun's bones were left where they were.
From then, July 15 became cursed with St. Swithin's prediction, but it never strictly comes true. However, some years have been a close run thing, such as the hot summer of 1976, when 38 out of 40 days were dry following St. Swithin's Day.
There is a grain of truth to the folklore, though, because the weather around mid-July often gets stuck in a rut. July and August is the time when there is a noticeable tendency for the weather to get into a particular mode and persist, so it is the general weather for a couple of weeks around St. Swithin's Day that matters most -- rather than the day itself.
A better version of St. Swithin's saying might go: If it rains a lot in the fortnight around July 15, expect unsettled weather for the rest of the summer, but if it's fair, then decent weather is on the way.
Not as catchy, but closer to the truth.
Excuse me a moment, if you wouldn't mind - I have this uncontrollable urge to lick my paw and wash round the back of my left ear.
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